After 2016, the Democratic Party needs to rebuild itself to become competitive in 2020. A 2018 upset in the midterm elections is possible given the trend that midterms tend to hurt the President’s party, however the House of Representatives is basically a lock for Republicans because of the present district boundaries and in 2018, there will be only one Republican seat in a state won by Clinton up for election contrasted by eight Democratic seats up for election. This is worrying given the trend from 2016 showing that Senate seats are increasingly following presidential results from straight ticket voting. Democrats will face even tougher challenges with state legislatures and governorships, where they are incredibly weak.
The point is that the party needs a new message to face challenges on many fronts. I should preface my suggestions by saying that I am not a Democrat. I am a Republican who is disenchanted by some of what Donald Trump wants to do, so I have sympathy for their cause and am willing to offer some help on how I would rebuild the Democratic Party.
My central thesis is that Democrats should try to attract voters and groups that have been abandoned by Trump and his new brand of populism. If you look at the election results from 2016, it was a lot like 2012. Most Romney voters voted for Trump and most Obama voters voted for Clinton. There were slight movements (which I will discuss later), but the only real change was that many white working class Democrats (mostly in the mid-west), who heavily supported Obama in 2008 and 2012, voted for Trump, thus swinging the election. My point is that elections are not won on energizing a party’s base, but rather on picking away a piece of another party’s winning coalition. The Democrats have a key opportunity to do this in 2020 with several key groups.
The first issue that Democrats should coalesce behind is Free Trade. This is not a policy that is difficult for Democrats to support. Many Democrats have supported Free Trade for many decades across different branches and levels of government. This is also an issue where Trump has not followed Republican orthodoxy and has left room for the Democrats to expand. Americans do not view Free Trade Agreements as a negative thing. According to Pew Research, Americans are split on Free Trade with 45% viewing it as a good thing and 47% viewing it as a bad thing with 8% undecided. Donald Trump has made his position on Free Trade clear, the Democrats should unite in support of free trade to provide as much contrast with him as possible. It would not be difficult considering that 56% of Democrats view Free Trade as a good thing, compared with only 34% who do not. Hillary Clinton tried to endorse Free Trade agreements, such as TPP, but was forced to come out against it.
The Democrats could also become the party of business in America. Donald Trump has said a lot of things that make business owners and economists uneasy. Trump has said that he would consider letting the US default on its debt. This would have massive worldwide implications and would be terrible for both businesses (big and small) and the American people. Democrats should build on this by branding themselves as a common sense pro-business party. This was something that Hillary Clinton tried to do, but was forced to abandon to “energize her base” through opposing TPP (anti-free trade) and her debt free college proposal (which would increase the national debt). By trying to energize her base, she alienated potential moderates and right leaners who may have otherwise supported her, but instead either opted for Trump or perhaps a third party. This is something that Democrats should not let happen again, especially if the majority of their party supports free trade anyway.
Another thing that the Democrats should support is foreign interventionism. This is another position that Democrats have had success with in the past. Their successes included Kosovo under President Clinton and Libya under President Obama. In both cases dictators were either removed or were removed not long after the intervention. Foreign interventionism could be seen as humanitarian interventionism (as it has been called before) and could gain more traction with the Democratic base using that sort of tactic. The Classical Liberalism that evolved into modern day American Liberalism was about Democracy, Freedom and Human Rights. These are issues that can be addressed through foreign interventionism and issues that the Democrats should seek to promote abroad.
Donald Trump has made it clear that he does not want to intervene around the globe, running as an isolationist. He is sympathetic to the Russian government as well and does not want to stop them from invading countries like Syria and Ukraine. The Democrats have picked up on this narrative by discussing and investigating Russian hacks into the DNC. While this is a great start and should be pursued, they should take it one step further by pushing for military intervention against Russian aggression in Syria. They should use the opportunity to oppose Trump’s agenda to help millions of people who are suffering because of a brutal dictator with many human rights violations. Hillary Clinton tried this, but was only able to push for a no fly zone with no ground troops. This is more or less what Obama did and even he admitted did not work in Syria. Presumably Clinton was held back by the isolationist wing of the Democratic base.
Ultimately for the Democrats to succeed, they need to relax the populist Sanders-Warren wing of the party and embrace the center-left third way vision that helped them cruise to victory in the 1990’s. The choice is clear, embrace populism and fight head to head with people who currently support Trump strongly or make a move for the moderates who casually supported Trump in 2016, perhaps simply because they didn’t like Hillary Clinton. That is my advice, do with it what you wish.